Jean-Claude Van Damme makes an appearance on the 101 Action Movies list with this martial arts classic.
The film, based LOOSELY on a true story follows Frank Dux (JCVD), a military officer, who trained with Senzo Tanaka (Roy Chiao) after his own son died to pass on his martial arts style and philosophy. Going on furlough from the service (though once the military find out where he’s going they send agents in pursuit) Dux heads to an invitation only, full contact kumite that features a variety of fighting styles, until only one is left standing.
Arriving in Hong Kong, Dux buddies up with Ray Jackson (Donald Gibb), a loud abrasive American who, for all his bluster, is rather likable. The two of them get set up, Dux finds romance with a reporter, Janice Kent (Leah Ayres) looking for an inside story on the kumite.
The agents pursuing him, include Rawlins (Forest Whittaker)!
The fight sequences are wonderful demonstrations but Arnold’s camerawork shows that sometimes they aren’t really hitting one another at all. That changes the further along in the contest we go, especially when the villain of the piece, Chong Li (Bolo Yeung) is around.
Chong Li’s motivations are very transparent, in a good way, as he’s the baddie, he loves the roar of the crowd, they love him, and it drives him to be increasingly brutal, putting people including Jackson in the hospital, and even taking lives.
With Jackson in the hospital, Dux needs to balance his desire for revenge, and his desire to do right by his training and honor Tanaka.
Sure, the acting, and the script aren’t quite up to snuff, but the fight sequences are pretty spectacular, especially when featuring Van Damme or Yeung. The two of them bring a reality to their fight sequences, and do all the work themselves. The movements are fluid, and effortless, and thus, all the more amazing.
The blows come fast and furious, in fact, the fight sequences take up almost a full hour of the films barely 90 minute runtime. There are a number of styles on display here, and honestly I was rather stunned that Jackson’s character got as far as he did, as he’s more of a brawler than a martial artist. Course if he didn’t get to face off against Chong Li and get brutally taken down, then Dux wouldn’t have a primal motive to take on Chong, only honor, this gives him a personal motivation.
It’s a fun film, and one I didn’t come to until I was into my tenure at a video store, long after it had come out, and I blazed my way through Van Damme’s films, he’s definitely made some stinkers, but this one, even then, caught my attention just for the styles and sequences.
Its a pretty fine example of a basic tournament film, and of course launched Van Damme into the main stream and a leading man. Which one of his films is your favorite?